Gerry Rezel is the Vice-President of Communications at the TANGS chain of Department Stores. With a wealth of experience in marketing communications, visual merchandising and loyalty marketing, he shares his thoughts on retail, service and customer loyalty with The Columnist.
The Columnist (TC): Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay and New York’s SoHo are regarded as shopping meccas. How well do you think Singapore is doing as a retail hub compared to her international counterparts?
Gerry Rezel (GR): Singapore is still very much considered a formidable retail destination. We are in a more concentrated area and we have everything in terms of offerings. Whatever you need—you have designer labels, high-street brands—you can find it all. Over the years we have gained a reputation as the key players’ market of choice as we are a gateway to the rest of South East Asia. So for many brands, it’s a strategic move to be located on Orchard Road or even in other parts of Singapore.
TC: How has the Singaporean shopper evolved over the years?
GR: Our shoppers are more affluent, younger, savvier with regards to gathering information, a lot more confident of who they are these days compared to 20 years ago. They have greater confidence, are a little bit more worldly-wise, and have the means to splurge on themselves as almost everyone of working age is earning their own money. They have that kind of disposable income within their reach and there is a lot of choice popping up in the marketplace like high street designer labels which are very reasonably priced.
We are also more savvy with the internet and with browsing for deals. In a nutshell, the Singapore shopper is a more confident shopper. Although we are often described as a casual society, at the end of the day, Singaporean shoppers know what they want and they know what they are looking out for.
TC: What are some of the best practices that TANGS exercises when designing retail and customer service experiences and customer loyalty programmes?
GR: First and foremost, we put the customer at the forefront of everything. The main thing is to look at the offering—what do you offer that is relevant to the business that you have decided to be in and to the market sector that you are trying to attract? In this day and age, it is very difficult to be all things to all men, so you have to figure out in which segment you want to play the retail game. You have to be very focused on what you are going to offer at what prices that would really be a good balance for your end consumer.
The other thing is to give them information. For example, people like to subscribe to organisations or brands with a conscience, or brands that stand for something. Especially with the younger people, the cosmetics brand MAC has the range ‘Viva Glam’. Every time you buy a product from that range, a certain amount goes to the AIDS foundation. So brands with a conscience, brands that use more natural colour
s, brands that are socially aware of issues like recycling; they may not necessarily in themselves be recyclable but they have a consciousness towards those issues. So I think those are the kinds of brands that the more educated and more cultured will gravitate towards.
You will always find the bargain-hunters in any city who will want to grab onto whatever they can get at the cheapest possible price. But sometimes, these people are not necessarily your loyal customers. They will gravitate towards any other retailer that will offer them the lowest possible price.
So I think the smart shopper or the shopper of the future will subscribe to brands that deliver on their promises and who have their own conscience.
TC: In your experience, what are some of the most effective customer loyalty programmes and what do you think makes them effective?
GR: Look at Apple. Apple I think is one of the best examples of customer loyalty but they don’t even have a card! Customers know what the brand stands for. Louis Vuitton and Hermes, they don’t even have loyalty cards. It all begins with brands that work towards quality products and fulfill people’s desires. People are willing to pay if they can equate the value with what they are going to get at the end of the day—that is, the customer satisfaction aspect of it.
Not everyone is on that plane; in a very competitive market you come up with all sorts of things to ensure that you hold on to your main customer bases, hence your loyalty programmes that come in so many shapes and sizes.
TC: With so many distractions in today’s retail environment, how should we rethink our approach to customer loyalty?
GR: Fundamentally it still goes back to the question of “Who is your market segment?” and making sure that you have the right merchandise for this market segment. Put them all together in a place that is easy for them to shop. Customers at the end of the day are very time-poor. They want to go to one place—one-stop, one-shop—to get what they want to fulfill their lifestyle needs, whether for work or for play. Department stores tend to have most of these categories; some are just fashion and lifestyle, others are little bit more comprehensive.
So it begins with the customer in mind, showing that you are able to satisfy with regards to the merchandise and offering you can put together, with price points that are comfortable for them. To add on to that, customer experience counts for a lot these days, from the ambience, to the service, to the little amenities we have, be it F&B offerings or customer lounges. Customers feel comfortable when they can go to a place to shop, relax, and get a lot of things done without having to go from one mall to another.
TC: How do you think retail experiences will evolve from 2013 and beyond 3-5 years?
GR: If everyone is fighting for the same customer, then it is the one who knows the customers who will be the best. You’ve got to use your information, your brand personality, to be able to come to terms and deliver the best customer experience that comes with the product.
TC: Retailers have information and data tools at their disposal and the average shopper is becoming more informed. How will that impact our retail strategies?
GR: We have to be a lot sharper. You can’t just sell things that the customer doesn’t want; there’s no point. It’s also not about giving the customers the cheapest thing available. It’s a fine balance between an art and a science. You have data, but at the end of the day, you have to be able to interpret what the market would want; what the market should be wearing or should want very soon.
TC: What was the most challenging project that you have had to take on so far?
GR: As you evolve you’ll want to introduce different things and different experiences. Sometimes you may be ahead of the game and it will be about educating the customer. Sometimes the education period is short, sometimes it takes longer. But at the end of the day, you have to implement and adapt with the times and introduce changes. Change is always as they say, a constant, but you have to make sure you change in the right direction and not change drastically to be a different thing all together.
This interview was conducted for The Columnist, a newsletter by Consulus that offers ideas on business, design and world affairs. The views expressed in this article are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Consulus.